Yes, we know we're late to the party with our The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review. Link's latest adventure is enormous, and at the time of launch we hadn't seen enough of it to give you our full analysis.
That's all changed now though, so read on for our definitive review.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not Zelda as you know it. In fact, the genetic makeup of the experience has much more in common with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or The Witcher 3.
You see, Link's latest adventure takes place in an enormous living, breathing world that exists independently of you. The forests are teeming with wildlife, Bokoblins chase wild boar across open plains, and townsfolk follow their typical daily routines.
Make no mistake - the world that Nintendo has crafted here is a true technological masterpiece. I've simply never been more immersed, or genuinely felt like I've been in an actual world than I have in Breath of the Wild.
And the reasons for that are many. First of all, it's breathtakingly beautiful. It's not realistic like your Skyrims or your Witcher 3s, but instead follows a painterly, almost cartoon-style that blends Skyward Sword with Wind Waker. In fact, this is the best the franchise has looked ever.
Secondly, the environments are so varied. There are sweltering deserts, frigid snowcaps, grassy plains, dense forests, gigantic mountains, idyllic streams, deep lakes - almost any setting you can imagine is accounted for.
And while their beauty will take your breath away, the environments actually serve a mechanical purpose. Link will struggle to survive in extreme conditions without the proper gear, he'll tire during lengthy climbs or swims, and weather conditions will force him to vary his approach.
Again, they're not just there for atmospheric effect, and every single weather condition will affect Link. He'll slip and fall while climbing in the rain, see his arrows fly wayward on windy afternoons, and receive a nasty electric shock when using metallic gear in a thunderstorm.
NPCs, animals, and enemies aren't just sitting around waiting for you to interact with them either - they've got their own lives to get on with. Deer will hunt for food in forests, Bokoblins will hunt wild boar and set up camps, and foxes will set out on their own little adventures.
Meanwhile, NPCs in town follow their own daily routine completely independently of you. Want to grab some arrows in the middle of the night? Tough - the proprietor's asleep so you'll have to head to an inn or set up camp outside of town until the morning.
All of this combines to create a level of immersion that I've simply never experienced in an open world adventure before. As a result, rather than feeling daunted by the sheer size of the world, or finding exploration a chore, I just can't wait to see what's on the other side of the next mountain.
From A to B-eautiful
The world isn't just there to provide you with a means of getting from dungeon to dungeon, with perhaps a few combat encounters, puzzles, and hidden surprises dotted about. No, this time around traversing the world is the main event.
Dungeons are still here, but they're delivered in two different formats.
Shrines, which are dotted around the world, each offer a room or so of quickfire puzzles. Complete them and you get a Spirit Orb, four of which can increase your health or stamina.
Then there are the more traditional dungeons - the nature of which we'll avoid detailing so you can experience it for yourself. Suffice to say, they still offer the intricate and smart design of previous Zeldas but, again, on a smaller scale.
It's clear that Nintendo wants you to spend as much time in the open world as possible, and doesn't want to force anything on you that gets in the way of that. For that, I'm grateful, as exploring is a truly wonderful experience.
Prepare for battle
Link's skillset in battle has changed. He's still got a basic attack combo, charge attack, leap attack, bows and various arrows, bombs, and boomerangs. He's still the fantasy equivalent of Batman.
But new to his arsenal are slow-mo moves. Pull out your bow in the air and you can fire a few shots before your enemies retaliate. Dodge an attack at the last minute and you can wail on your opponent in complete safety.
You can also knock parry an attack with your shield, sneak up on an enemy to instakill them, or use environmental weapons like boulders.
You almost have to approach each combat encounter like you would a stealth section of a Batman Arkham game. Figure out the best and safest approach to carve a path through the enemies.
That's because most enemies are tougher, smarter, and harder to defeat than before. Not quite Dark Souls hard, but certainly enough to keep you on your toes.
But if you embrace the new combat system, you'll have an absolute blast. The increased difficulty makes each combat encounter meaningful, and when you pull it off you'll probably walk away with an exciting story to tell over the water cooler.
You're no longer just given a sword and some armour and sent out into the world. This time you have to find all that stuff, buy it, or take it off an enemy.
Once you've found a workshop and gathered enough ingredients, you can also craft and upgrade weapons for a price. You can also upgrade armour using the same method when you meet a great fairy.
Everything has a rating as well, so you can't just use the first sword you find for the entire game. You'll constantly be striving for better. Oh, and there's the fact that your weapons break after regular use, forcing you to keep well-stocked with replacements.Sheikah Slate
Also new to your arsenal is the Sheikah Slate, a tablet-like piece of equipment which serves as your map, telescope, and provides you with a bunch of special abilities.
And these abilities are pretty much handed to you right at the beginning, serving in place of items you'd usually pick up over the course of your adventure in dungeons.
There's Magnesis, which allows you to move metallic items like Magneto does, Cryonis, which freezes water into pillars, two different types of bombs, and a camera.
Stasis is the most interesting new ability, as it lets you freeze a moving object for a set period. The object also stores up kinetic energy, and unleashes it when it's unfrozen. This is handy, as it lets you whack a frozen boulder a few times which will then fly out of the way when it unfreezes.
All of these abilities have unlimited uses, though they do have recharge times - a few of which are quite lengthy. You can upgrade them when you meet a certain Korok though, which can increase their abilities or recharge times.
Given the focus on exploration, the Sheikah Slate is incredibly handy. You can get some height, then use your scope to seek out new discoveries, then place a pointer on them. That pointer will then appear on your map, so you can find a way to navigate to them. To fill out your map, you only need head to the nearest tower, climb to the top, then download the data for that location. It's very Assassins Creed.
You can also place stamps on certain locations if you need an item to unlock the potential. For example, if combat's too difficult you could place a sword icon to warn yourself, or drop a bomb indicator if you spy a wall you can't blow up yet.
It's a lovely addition, which is completely necessary to get the most out of Breath of the Wild. It's an enormous world, and I can't exaggerate that enough, and without your map you're going to feel a bit overwhelmed.
This is an area in which I feel Breath of the Wild will be at its most divisive - perhaps particularly for Zelda fans. The experience is more akin to the original NES adventure, in that, bar a brief tutorial, you're simply thrown into a world and it's largely up to you to figure out how to tackle it.
It's not quite as harsh as the first Zelda though. Initially, you are gently nudged in the right direction with map pointers and clear destinations, but somewhere along the way you'll find yourself with only a vague idea of where to go next.
The same can be said for healing and keeping yourself safe. This time you're going to need to cook meals and potions to keep your hearts up, and give you the power to defeat enemies and survive in extreme conditions.
And aside from clues in the material descriptions and suggestions NPCs make, you're going to need to figure out your own recipes for everything.
Many will argue that that's wonderful, and games should pose a challenge, ask you to explore, and pay attention. After all, have true adventure experiences fallen by the wayside due to incessant map markers and fast travel?
But then there are those who hated the Triforce quest in Wind Waker. That also asked you to traverse the length of the map, locating pieces of the Triforce with only basic maps to guide you.
To be fair, that was jarring in Wind Waker because, up to that point, you'd been led by the hand. So when you were suddenly asked to use your brain and solve puzzles, it was a bit daunting.
On the other hand, Breath of the Wild is designed entirely around that experience, and it gently eases you into it from the get-go. So while a few may find it daunting at first, those who stick with it will see the enormous benefit in the longterm.
Being challenged is just far more engaging.
We've waited long enough - what's the verdict?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn't just a departure for the franchise, but for Nintendo itself. Never before has the games giant created a world quite as enormous, captivating, and full of life as this, and for that reason alone it's completely worth playing.
Moreover, it stands proudly against the likes of Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, and The Witcher 3 as an open world experience, and even surpasses each of them in many instances. It's a true technical marvel and achievement.
I'd also go so far as to say that this is the best Zelda I've experienced - which is no mean feat when it's up against Ocarina of Time, Link's Awakening, or The Wind Waker.
And that just goes to show how impressive an achievement this is, with every single feature present from previous Zeldas being enormously improved on. Combine that with a multitude of ambitious new ideas, technical achievements, and the fact it still feels like a Zelda game at its core, and we're edging on best game of all time territory.
However, the changes will undoubtedly attract detractors. Those who avoid challenging experiences like Dark Souls or, indeed, the original Legend of Zelda, may find this a tad too unfriendly an experience - particularly when compared to the rest of the franchise, which has largely led you by the hand to this point.
Similarly, those who find huge open world experiences daunting, may be put off here. Particularly as Nintendo has kept the map markers and instructions to the minimum.
But those will be missing the point. Nintendo is no fool, and has totally crafted the experience around this open-ended challenge. Those who embrace it will literally have their breath taken away - and not just initially, as the surprises still pop up deep into the adventure.
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